Selfie Culture: Helping Tweens Navigate Exposure to the Beauty Industry

by Beke Beau

How your tween interacts with the beauty industry matters. Kids are exposed to and enticed by makeup-centered social media content daily, engendering fascination with the cosmetics that these posts are intended to sell.  It doesn’t take much research to conclude that all the associated products, marketing, and packaging is having an effect on your tween’s health, self-esteem and the even environment that they’re going to inherit.

Savvy social media beauty influencers are operating not only for the worship of their followers but also for financial gain.  The entertainment they produce is taken at face value, and the mind-numbingly similar “looks” they promote validate the new norm of what beauty is: eyes are enlarged and glassy, framed by Kardashian-esque brows on steroids.  Lips are inflated to bursting, skin is unnaturally smoothed, better to feature the ubiquitous heavy highlighting and contouring effects.

There are serious consequences to supporting the beauty industry with so much abandon and so little critical pause.  First, many beauty products contain chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin (lotions, creams, pigment products), ingested (glitter) and inhaled (powders and sprays).  As a 60-year-old woman, my chemical load is full, but your child still stands a chance of not glowing in the dark like I do. 

Slick social media content, mixed with a cell phone and photoshop applications, becomes a one-way ticket to “I’m not pretty enough.”  Visit the fascinating series of photographs entitled “Selfie Harm,” taken by British photographer Rankin.  As a society, we can talk a good game about how our differences make us better and how the ultimate goal is to value individuality, but young people are often motivated, for the sake of a “like,” to attempt to render themselves a replica of someone quite other than their sweet selves.

Just stop and think about all the Targets, Ultas, Sephoras, department stores and drugstores that stock cosmetics.  Then wake up, People with Children, and acknowledge that the output of industrialized beauty is contributing to the climate emergency in which we find ourselves.  There will be “baking” and “strobing,” but not the kind that influencer James Charles is talking about.

I’m not saying that tweens shouldn’t enjoy playing with makeup.  But no one needs twenty eye shadow palettes or this (ironically named the “Rainforest of the Sea” collection).  Marketing practices that fuel “wants” over “needs” and work against reasonable consumption lean on collaborations with companies like Disney to add an irresistibly toy-like appeal for young people. 

How do you protect your tween’s mental and physical health in relation to beauty and beauty products?  Model good behavior; cut down on your own consumption of cosmetics, and purchase with the intention of using up what you buy instead of collecting or discarding.  Talk to your kids about social media posts and their value as entertainment rather than a prescription for attractiveness or happiness. 

Beke Beau is a multiple award-winning makeup artist and beauty educator who began her career in New York City.  She has a Master’s Degree from Harvard University and is the founder of the Paint School of Makeup in Philadelphia.  Don’t miss her upcoming Intro to Makeup for Teens designed to set your teen on a healthy path to becoming a more knowledgeable and realistic user and consumer of beauty products!